My last day

The last day in St. Pierre consisted of breakfast and a trip to the airport. I had arranged to pay my bill the day before and had asked Guillaume, an assistant at the hotel, if he knew where I could buy the cloudberry jam served at breakfast each morning. I explained I had searched every store in the island without success. He informed me that harvesting each berry off individual stems didn’t reap much fruit and there were only a few places where the berries thrived. These, he said, are jealously guarded by residents. The cloudberry jam I ate every morning was his grandmother’s.

When I brought my luggage down, he was there to drive me to the airport. But first, he had a gift, small jar of his grandmother’s cloudberry jam- an example of the generosity and hospitality of the people of St. Pierre and Auberge Saint-Pierre.


L’ile-Aux-Marins, Day 2

My goal for my second day on the L’iles-aux-Marins was to go to the northern part of the island joined by isthmus to a large hill I planned to hike as I had seen others do.


I followed the path closest to the cliffs facing St. Pierre right behind an older man.  As we made our way practically in tandem, I worried that he lived on the island and I was stalking him to his front door.  However, we both made it to the top of the hill ringed by cannons.  On a bench facing them sat the small elderly gentleman.  I went from one end to the other to capture the view of the cannons stretched across the horizon.


We both turned to leave and fell in step with one another.  He told me in French that he had been a wounded soldier, so every day he made the voyage to I’ile-aux-Marins to honor his compatriots.  He put up with my limited French telling me he knew English which he encouraged me to use, but he didn’t understand much of that either.

I got to the isthmus and realized getting across it and up the adjoining hill would prove more challenging than I imagined.  Stubbornly, I started out anyway.  Then, it occurred to me that I would be out there alone and since my phone wasn’t working, I might find myself in trouble.  Dejected, I turned around and decided to go to the other end of the island to the lighthouse.


A woman with a 6 year old passed me.  He started speaking to me in French and once again, I had to say,  “Je ne parle pas bien français.”  She responded, “So you don’t speak French?” in English and I answered in French, “Un peu,” a little.  I liked looking at her.  She was the spitting image of Vanessa Redgrave, in her late 50’s maybe early 60’s with a mane of dark blond hair, a series of colored earrings in both ears, and a small piercing under her bottom lip.  She told me the boy was telling me he was going to play in the sand. When I said good-bye, she turned, held up two fingers in a V, and said “Peace.”


I spent the next two hours walking to the lighthouse, looking at wildflowers.  Could I do this every day I wondered as I passed a resident sitting in a beach chair on their deck?  Would it be enough?  I’m so taken with the landscape I ask everyone I can if it’s possible to rent the few houses on the island.  No, they say.  They are only for residents.



L’iles-aux-Marins, Day 1

Each morning, I attempt to write or recapture what happened the day before and manage to not leave my hotel room until 1 or 2.  Fortuitously, I got on the boat to the L’ile-aux-Marins just as it was boarding.  The boat ride took less than a half hour but we were taken to another world, a living museum as Aurèlie from the hotel had described it. Settled in 1604, it’s last permanent population left in 1965.


I looked in all directions and didn’t know where to start my exploration. I eventually walked 5 miles but covered even less than half the island.  Without thinking, I slowed my pace and wandered east toward the church on the hill and the Atlantic.  So much to see, smell, maybe taste.  I’m looking up, down, and sideways.  Maybe I’ll would find my own cloudberries.  I reached the first building that is open to the public, which is the old schoolhouse now known as the Archipelitude Museum.  The attendant tells me that there are 21 rooms to explore.  I go through every one and am not disappointed.  Like all the museums I’ve visited in the archipelago, the exhibits invite close inspection and delight, filled with objects used mostly from the 19th and 20th century.

My favorite room is the classroom.  Like a scene from Little House on the Prairie, I could imagine being both a student and a teacher.  The classroom held the traditional maps and books found in schoolrooms of the early part of the 20th century.  Yet, teacher or student could glance outside and see pale green grasses, wildflowers, the sea. The blackboard reads Vendredi, 5 juillet 1963, La dernière classe, Friday, July 5, 1963, the last class.


The church, Roman Catholic, is spare but compelling with its bowed blue ceilings like the hull of a ship.  Outside Stations of the Cross line a path to the sea.


On the other side of the hill is a small graveyard and not far away is a workshop. What pleasure- working with your hands looking out across the island.


Four hours passed and I’d only seen one small area.  I would have to return.  This next trip meant that I will have spent four days traveling in a boat.  Magnifique!

St. Pierre Day Three


Fog surrounded the island like a fine lace curtain brushing against those who wandered out.  After a late breakfast, I figured this was a day to stay put and fix my ipad, which seemed to have lost two keys and it’s juice in my travels.  I made my way to the local tabac, used my fractured French, and bought batteries.  In they went with no luck.  After an hour or so of searching the Internet, I found a possible solution- aluminum foil.  It seems that Apple did not effectively design the connector to the batteries: putting in foil can solve the problem.  It did.

After writing the first two entries of my blog, I went to L’Arche, Musee et Archives built in 1999 and visited by President Chirac. Its modern atmosphere is quite the opposite of the Heritage Museum. I hoped to find my French relatives amongst the earlier inhabitants of St. Pierre.  When I did the same in Aix en Provence at the Archives d’Outre Mer, the librarian told me I was on a fool’s mission as I only had the last name, de Jorna; however, an entire index was devoted to them.  Alas, no luck this time but the people working at L’Arche were extremely friendly and helpful, quite different from my experience in Aix where my requests seemed mostly to annoy.

When I got back to my room, it wasn’t even 2.  I gave myself permission to read and nap.

This night I tried a creperie for dinner.  I was thrilled when the menu revealed that their crepes were made with buckwheat, remembering ones I had had at a hole in the wall in Paris.  Indeed, they were made with buckwheat and had a delicious nutty flavor but they must have been put in a microwave as they were tough and leathery.  The restaurant faces the harbor and in my way of thinking, any meal can be saved by a view of the sea.




St. Pierre, The Fourth Day


Magnifique, merveilleux, formidable, tous les mots en français that describe the splendor of Langlade and Miquelon, two islands that along with St. Pierre make up this French outpost.  Organized by the Office de Tourism, a day trip allows for the exploration of both islands 39 kilometers from St. Pierre.  However, it isn’t all smooth sailing.  In order to disembark on Langlade where the tour begins, one must get off the boat and onto what is called “The Zodiac,” which resembles a large whitewater raft.  Not only are passengers transported to the shore, but also dogs, cats, shovels, food, and lots of luggage.


We were five on the tour including the two tour guides, two meteorologists from St. John’s, Newfoundland, and me.  As we drove from Langland to Miquelon, most of the conversation consisted of “Oohs” and “Ahhs:” the scenery’s dramatic beauty knocked the wind out of us.  Large grass covered dunes dominate a sparse landscape surrounded by the Atlantic.  We stopped to climb a promontory overlooking the isthmus that separates Miquelon from Langland.  Wild Irises and small fruits such as dwarf raspberries and the elusive cloudberries or baked apples, as they are known in Newfoundland, grow close to the ground. Each ripe orange berry grows on one stem.  As I popped one in my mouth, I tasted a delicious perfume.


We crossed the isthmus and made our way to Miquelon inhabited year round by 600 souls.  Our young guides, still college students in Paris, are from Miquelon.  In order to complete secondary school, they had to live in St. Pierre during the week.  I imagined the thrill and loneliness of living apart from your parents at the age of 14. We had two hours or more to have lunch and explore the small town.  After a lunch of local scallops at Salle Entre-Nous, we parted ways.


I wandered towards the most southern part of town where a dory, the local fishing boat, ghostly and beautiful had been abandoned. For almost an hour, I sat on the rocky beach, allowing my eyes to fill with the sea.  Then, I made my way to La Maison de la Nature et de l’Environment an impressive building filled with rooms that inform and honor the eco systems of this archipelago.  The exhibits were interactive; I could actually smell the local flora.

Eight hours later, we were back on St. Pierre.  As I had on the isle of Rum in Scotland from where I could see the Isle of Skye, I closed my eyes and tried to burn images of Langland and Miquelon on to my brain to return to whenever I choose. I don’t think it worked.  An abundance of riches crowded each one out.


Once back to St. Pierre, I went to dinner at Feu aux Braise but they didn’t have my reservation.  No matter how many ways they reconfigured my name, it wasn’t there.  Tired and frustrated, I asked if I could order a pizza which I would take back to my room.  After a 10 minute wait, I was in luck.  Someone had cancelled and I could stay.  When I finished a dinner of duck in raspberry sauce, I made reservations for every night of the remainder of my visit.  I became a regular, always a hope in my travels.